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On display at the Bolo EPFL, Lausanne, France. (Image: Rama & Musee Boloe)
1987 — Apple Newton
Jumping forward a decade, we witnessed the introduction of the Apple Newton. This was produced during Steve Jobs' hiatus from the company, and not finding it worthy of the Apple name, he killed it when he returned to take over the helm at Apple.
The Newton MessagePad was a large PDA that tried to do a variety of tasks with inconsistent results. The stylus was used to write naturally anywhere on the screen. The Newton would transcribe the handwriting to digital text for use in the PDA functions. While this handwriting recognition was advanced for its time, it was not accurate enough to make most users comfortable.
The Newton eventually had a modem option for getting online, a true advancement in mobile technology.
The Newton, cancelled in 1998, still has an active user community, and can be found online for purchase even today. The team responsible for the handwriting recognition in the Newton went on to form Ritepen, the folks behind Evernote.
1989 — Poqet PC
When you think of pocket PC, you normally think of Microsoft's early PDA efforts, but this one from the Poqet Computer Corporation appeared in 1989 and brought power to the handheld category. It did so by running MS-DOS on a tiny clamshell device that could run 10 to 100 hours on two AA batteries. This was accomplished by aggressive power management techniques employed by Poquet.
Fujitsu bought Poqet and released one advanced model, the Poqet PC Plus, with more memory, I/O capability, and PCMCIA card expansion. Unfortunately, this model was bigger and weighed almost two pounds, and it was expensive, so it never went anywhere.
1991 — HP 95LX pocket computer
In 1991, HP introduced a pocket computer aimed squarely at the enterprise worker. The HP 95LX was similar to the Poqet PC in that it also ran MS-DOS, but HP included software in ROM that turned the 95LX into a business tool.
Most significantly, HP included the main spreadsheet program Lotus 1-2-3 (thus the Lotus Expandable LX designation) in ROM, producing a full spreadsheet computer that fit in a pocket. There was also a financial calculator, PIM software, and other goodies embedded in ROM, making the HP 95LX a true busines powerhouse.
Like the Poqet, the HP 95LX was a full DOS PC and could be programmed by the user. HP continued to produce upgraded models for a few years before retiring the product line.